be the bailiwick of the state attorney general; in others, the department of human services with local courts. In Virginia, a single agency has the task. "I think one of the reasons we're going to make the deadline, and a lot of the states aren't, is that it is easier to make a programwide decision in a state like Virginia," said Henry.


Henry's success at bringing his state close to compliance contains some lessons from which other states can benefit. One piece of advice is that systems shouldn't be built from the ground up, yet not be so bound to a legacy system that it becomes what he called a fresh coat of paint on a dinosaur.

"Implement your new system in layers. Don't bring the whole thing on at once," he said. "There are some core elements -- get those up as quickly as you can, then add on the bells and the whistles. That approach would shorten the development cycle."

Initially, Virginia's system was not compliant with federal regulations because aspects of federal child support law were changed by Congress. This makes flexibility a must. With the assistance of the vendor, Virginia's mainframe-based system was retrofit to meet the ever-changing federal criteria.


Henry said it is important to evaluate operations periodically, particularly when technology plays a vital part. In Virginia, the changes were stressful for employees at all levels because they had to quickly learn how to manage cases with the automated system. Some operations were decentralized, some staff positions either radically changed or added, and some clerical positions within the agency were eliminated.

After about four months, the system was functioning smoothly and staff adjustments were made to match the computer workflow. "Then, productivity just went through the roof," said Henry, reporting between 40 percent and 120 percent higher activity in some areas over the same period last year."